Why We Must Save Our Swimming Pools
Within the swimming industry, baby swimming is a niche sector, set up through necessity and now a core part of new parents’ baby activities. Over 150,000 babies a week take part in formal baby swim classes and many thousands more attend informally with a parent or their family.
Getting babies and pre school age children to become accustomed to water at a very early age has been proved to help bonding, increase early stage coordination and crucially, the beginnings of a life skill to be able to swim.
Drowning is the 3rd highest cause of deaths in the under 5’s and research shows clearly that early swimming experiences can cut those deaths dramatically.
Paul Thompson CEO of WaterBabies - the UK’s largest baby swim school - points out “Water Babies specialises in the early years, 0-5 and when you think that our youngest ever client was 1 day old you realise that swimming is the only form of exercise that can start from the first moments of life”.
Although swimming is the only sport to be included in the school curriculum in the UK, where all key stage 2 children should be able to swim by age 11, thousands of schools don’t offer swimming lessons as required under the law at all, due to lack of availability of local pools, a lack funding to provide transport and a shortage of trained teaching staff to supervise.
As a result, huge numbers of children are leaving primary school each year without being able to swim. The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) research shows that 1 in 3 children now leave primary school unable to swim and for children not achieving the National Curriculum target of swimming 25 metres unaided by age 11, 40% of those children who can't swim haven't even been offered the opportunity of learning to swim. This amounts to around 200,000 children who left primary school this summer unable to swim, amounting to an astonishing 2 million non-swimmers over the next ten years.
Trish Hare founder and MD of Swim Kidz is adamant that this should form part of basic education stating, “It is so important that the lifesaving skill of swimming is taught to future generations and should be protected as much as returning children to education in schools.”
With an increase in childhood obesity, leading to an increase in type 2 diabetes in children, this is nothing short of a national scandal. Swimming should be accessible to everyone. It’s a vital part of our communities, not just a life skill for children, but as a lifeline for many others including people with disabilities and socially for the elderly, new parents and anyone needing low impact exercise.
Splash About has been at the heart of the Baby Swimming industry for more than 25 years, designing and inventing specialist products to support babies, parents and teachers in their mission to help children learn to swim. From the world famous Happy Nappy to specialist warm in water products, we service over 40 countries and millions of swimming babies, toddlers and people with disabilities every year.
The effects of COVID 19 on the leisure industry are catastrophic, 48% of all public leisure facilities are at risk of permeant closure, that’s potentially 1300 sites and over 58,000 job losses. According to Data Hub research, this sector contributes £3.8bn to the economy every year, not including the savings to the NHS in improved mental and physical health. Swimming contributes over £357 million of that figure, plus added revenue from consumer spending on toys, pool products and accessories, now all but lost. But the social and wellbeing costs are incalculable.
Baby swim schools working with experts at Swim England and the Swim Teachers Association have published new extensive COVID19 safety guidelines and schools will have to absorb cost increases from pool owners, whose own costs are spiralling, as they deal with higher overheads and lower footfall. Even if confidence does return to the market, social distancing rules, face masks and fewer facilities, such as cafes and retail opportunities, mean they have no choice but to pass those increases onto many small swim school businesses. Even the larger school franchises are deeply concerned.
Dan Allen MD at Turtle Tots, with over 250 locations in the UK adds “We have had to navigate the initial stages of lockdown, helping franchises communicate with their customers, teachers and venues, then to find the support they needed to stay on a firm financial footing for as long as lockdown lasted and now, nearly 5 months later, to help put together the systems, processes and guidance to enable them to reopen safely and effectively. All the measures in the world won’t make a difference if there’s no pool available to teach in”.
All the baby swim schools across the UK have worked tirelessly to implement new safety procedures, at great financial cost. Schools such as Waterbabies, Turtle Tots, SwimKidz and Puddle Ducks depend on pool capacity to offer the services they do, which are so vital to so many children. After 5 months of lockdown, the government must pay attention to these niche SME businesses, that not only contribute to the financial economy but are societal necessities.
The entire industry is behind the #Saveleisure campaign launched this week by Community Leisure UK, UK active and CIMSPA. This campaign is lobbying the government to provide £800 million of ringfenced funding to provide emergency relief, in order to sustain the UK’s leisure infrastructure and services through the Covid-19 restrictions and the recovery period through to March 2021.
Some of that government funding must be earmarked for swimming pools - both private pools and municipal public pools. Without them, communities will lose a valuable asset, children will lose a life skill they may never then learn and fantastic businesses will collapse.